Guest Post: 19 Editorial Tips From a Senior Editor

We have a special treat today, a guest post by a prolific freelancer who knows a lot about getting along with editors. We are pleased that she agreed to share valuable tips on this blog.

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen is a full-time freelance writer on Bowen Island, BC, Canada, who writes for a variety of national publications. She maintains 3 blogs: Quips & Tips for Freelance Writers, Quips & Tips for Achieving Your Goals, and Quips & Tips for Couples Coping With Infertility.

19 Editorial Tips From a Senior Editor
by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

These writing and editorial tips are from a senior editor I write for regularly – and they include some of the most frequent errors she sees in article submissions. Pay attention, fellow scribes, because even when you think you’ve got writing down to a fine art, there’s always more to learn!

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly,” says C. J. Cherryh. Don’t let writer’s block or fear paralyze you. Instead, jot it all down…and edit until you can edit no more.

Quote Your Sources Properly

1. Always include your source list when submitting your article. Include references and links to any studies, research, findings, and people that you reference in your article.

2. Avoid using sources that don’t seem 100% reliable/trustworthy (such as authors of some self-help books). Avoid referring books that are old or out of print (unless it’s a classic), and avoid using too many sources in one article.

3. Don’t refer to a source as a book’s author, when he or she is actually a co-author. Be careful when identifying a book’s title. Make sure you get the title 100% correct.

4. Include and list a source’s academic credentials after his or her name (use Andrew Weil, M.D., at first reference, not Dr. Weil). Add Ph.D. to the source’s name if warranted; it may be taken for granted to you if a scientist is being quoted, but this adds an element of trustworthiness for the reader. Refer to dietitian sources as “R.D.,” not “nutritionist” (no academic degree or certification is required to call oneself a nutritionist). Seek out registered dietitians over “nutritionists” as sources.

5. Don’t unnecessarily cap the professional title of a source: “Chief Scientist” instead of “chief scientist.”

Write Accurately

6. Avoid making overly speculative comments and overpromising results, especially in articles about things like dieting. “You’ll lose 5 pounds in 2 weeks with this plan” is a statement that is dangerous and could result in a lawsuit. Avoid calling a weight-loss study a breakthrough, miracle, etc.

7. Include relevant information that would interest readers, such as where a certain product or procedure is available, when it’ll be available to the public if not yet on the market, etc.

8. Use reliable sources, especially for health information, such as nutrition or diets. Make sure your sources are government-endorsed (National Institute of Health) or widely recognized (Tufts University). There are far too many homemade/sketchy nutrition Web sites.

9. Avoid reliance on a very small study and attributing its results as conclusive/authoritative.

10. Don’t give medical advice that’s unsubstantiated or not evidence-based.

11. Make sure your articles present both sides of a controversial issue.

Pay Attention to Grammar and Punctuation

12. Avoid the overuse of parenthetical phrases for descriptions or details. Brackets are “speed bumps” to readers, and may cause them to stop reading.

13. Punctuate appositive phrases properly.
* Bad: Common-sense measures like washing your hands or getting a flu shot, can go a long way toward preventing or greatly decreasing your risk for getting one or more of these viral illnesses.
* Good: Common-sense measures, such as washing your hands or getting a flu shot, can go a long way toward preventing or greatly decreasing your risk for getting one or more of these viral illnesses.

14. Avoid using the plural instead of singular when referring to body parts.
* Bad: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brains.
* Good: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brain. (Each person has only one brain!)

15. Watch for sloppy construction.
* Bad: The FDA urged the public to only eat peanut butter until further notice.
* Good: The FDA urged the public to eat peanut butter only from jars until further notice. (Otherwise, it sounds like the public should eat peanut butter to the exclusion of every single other food in the world!)
* Bad: fatty foods you should eat every day.
* Good: 6 healthy-fat foods (Nobody should eat 6 fatty foods every day!)

Miscellaneous Editorial Tips

16. Avoid referring to readers in unflattering or unpleasant ways (eg, “chubby” or “dim-witted”).

17. For expert Q&A articles, focus on the reader’s question. Don’t supplement the piece with related topics until you have answered the reader’s question.

18. Include your proposed title and subtitle (dek) with your article submission or query pitch. Deks could be sentence case (not capitalized).

19. Do not submit your text in any color other than black.

Again, many thanks to Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen for sharing these tips.

© 2009 Laverne Daley

Please leave a comment.

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2 Comments on “Guest Post: 19 Editorial Tips From a Senior Editor”

  1. Teresa says:

    What a great article! I know some fiction writers who would benefit from the section on grammar.

  2. ldaley says:

    Thanks for your comment, Teresa. I thought it was great, too and I’m indebted to Laurie for allowing me to use it as a guest post. LD

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